Gilding the Coast: The Art and Design of Long Island’s Great Estates
Presented by Joshua Ruff
On Thursday October 15th, 2015, The Society and Joshua Ruff Director of Collections at the L.I. Museum presented this elaborate program at the Islip Public Library.
From left to right: Society board members Arlene Goldman, Jim Vesely, Debbie Filipowski, Mr. Ruff, Madeline Hanewinckel, Elaine Kurka
The exhibition emphasized artistic production, in both the significant path-breaking work that was done on estates by a wide array of artisans, and in the art that was commissioned and inspired by the great estate movement itself. Artifact-rich case studies of specific Long Island estates included architect Stanford White’s house Box Hill, in St. James; artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany’s magnificent Laurelton Hall, in Cold Spring Harbor; and muralist and canvas painter William de Leftwich Dodge’s Villa Francesca, in Setauket. In each instance, these residences moved beyond their use as country home retreats for restful entertaining. From their conception to their meticulous design, construction, and eventual daily use, these were fascinating working laboratories that facilitated the extension of their owner’s innovative artistic legacies.
Gilding the Coasts: The Art & Design of Long Island’s Great Estates explored the collaborative efforts, fertile creativity, and innovative work that were critical ingredients forging Long Island’s great estates. Sections of the exhibition focused on milestone Long Island residential achievements of individual architects (such as McKim, Mead & White, Delano & Aldrich, Carrère and Hastings, and others), builders, and some of their high profile clientele. Architectural remnants, furniture, paintings, sculpture, historical photographs, and film clips represented this important and impressive story.
In 1946, nearing the end of Long Island’s Great Estate era, Life magazine still proclaimed the region as “the most socially desirable residential area in the United States.” From the late 1870s until the World War II years, well over 1,000 estates were built across Nassau and Suffolk counties, thoroughly reshaping the lives of wealthy and working-class residents alike. These palaces and properties of diverse design were more than simply repositories for American wealth, power, and social standing. They also represented the country’s best achievements in architecture, interior decorating, and landscape design.